the blog

Mingle Well, Mingle Well

‘Tis the season to mingle. Office parties and other business/social events abound. Many of us find this kind of exercise excruciatingly painful. It’s tough, especially if you’re running a business, to carve out the time to go to the many functions the season imposes. There is usually a mountain of year-end tasks to take care of. Our eye is on the prize — those precious few days between Christmas and the New Year when the phones are not ringing off the hook. Who wants to be stuck in the office finishing up paperwork then? Better to get it done now and if that means no going out, well so be it.

Time, or the lack thereof, isn’t the only problem. More people than you might imagine are uncomfortable with the whole holiday party scene. A lot of effort is involved. Questions like “Do I have to dress up?” and “Who’s going to be there?” are top of mind, not to mention, “Do I have to bring a gift?” Just entertaining these energy-sapping questions is enough to make some people want to crawl back into their office, lock the door and throw away the key.

But there are real and lasting advantages to going to holiday business parties. Unlike any other time of the year, December is a great time to reach out to customers, clients, staff and employees. Although most of them are also feeling pressed by work, they’re also feeling festive. Clients and customers are looking to deepen their relationships with their vendors. (Yes, it’s true!) Employees and staff want to get to know the boss or senior team better. The boss has an opportunity to show employees his or her softer side. It’s a short and fleeting period and only happens once a year.

The trick is to choose carefully and be strategic about which events you go to. It always amazes me that business people who wouldn’t do anything that moves them one inch away from their business plan, approach the whole holiday party thing without any thought at all.

So how do you choose? Certainly client invitations should be at the top of your list. If, for some reason, you must refuse, you had better have a very good excuse or be prepared to lose that client’s business. And, by the way, this behavior is not limited to the holiday season. Next are the boss’s invites. You might think that the boss only has sway over you during the workday, but you’d be wrong. And don’t make the additional mistake of thinking that an invitation from your boss is optional. It’s not. The third must-do event is the company party. Sure, it’s big, the usual suspects drink too much and the music is often bad. But you don’t have to stay for the whole thing. Just go for an hour or two, grab some hors d’oeuvres, a drink (doesn’t have to be alcohol) and make small talk with the right people.

Zeroing in on the right people should be a key to your strategy. After all, if you’re going to take the trouble to attend a holiday business party, you might as well get something in return. First and foremost, be sure to speak to the host. After that, it’s up to you. You can narrow things down a bit by asking yourself the following questions:

    • Who do I need or want to curry favor with come 2007?
    • Who would I like to get to know a little better?
    • Who should get to know me a little better?

Some readers may find this calculating and not in keeping with the holiday spirit. I would ask those readers to be mindful that in the holiday business party realm, the operative word is business.

But that doesn’t mean you have to talk business and here’s where a lot of people get tripped up. My advice is to keep things light, which is in keeping with the seasonal nature of these events. Small talk topics like vacations, family, entertainment of all kinds, food, restaurants — you get the idea. These types of topics may seem like a waste of energy but it has been well established that small talk facilitates the move into the “big” talk that you’ll be looking forward to when everyone re-boots in January.

So don’t file those invitations under “G” just yet. Choose the few that have the biggest payoff for you and your business; think of it as part of your business plan. You will surely expand your business reach and, who knows, you may actually have a good time doing it.

Copyright 2006 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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